Mike De Los Santos, owner of the award-winning barbecue sauce and dry rub line Mike D’s BBQ, first got into the business for a simple reason – he just thought he could do it better.
De Los Santos, of Durham, discovered his love for barbeque at an early age. A self-described “barbecue junkie,” he dabbled in creating his own sauces and dry rubs after being unable to find the specific flavors he wanted out on the market. He also maintained a “Barbecue Blog” where he wrote reviews of barbecue restaurants around North Carolina and beyond, becoming popular to the point where companies began sending him their sauces and rubs to try out.
Though he initially resisted suggestions from friends that he should sell his own sauces and rubs, De Los Santos eventually realized that his creations were more than good enough.
“I had a cabinet full of barbecue sauce, and I really just felt like my sauce was better than most of them,” he said. “I figured that if these companies are out there selling this to people, well then I may as well give it a shot like everybody keeps suggesting.”
Still, De Los Santos wasn’t ready to truly commit. He put the project off until a personal tragedy spurred him to action – his son Aaron passed away at just six months old after battling Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
“In those six months, watching his struggle to live, his fight for survival when he didn’t really have any other options, it had a life-altering impact on me,” he said. “A way to honor his memory was to not make any more excuses, and that was what ultimately pushed me to start the business.”
Founded in 2013, Mike D’s started small, De Los Santos said. Much of the new company’s business came through word-of-mouth, selling barbecue sauce out of the trunk of De Los Santos’s car. From there came small shows, then larger events like the Got to be NC festival, and before long Mike D’s products had been shipped to at least one customer in all 50 states.
Of course, none of that success would be possible without a standout product. Mike D’s offers two sauces – a spicy version and a mild sauce known as “BIG” sauce – as well as spicy and mild dry rubs. The sauces have a hybrid vinegar and tomato base – an attempt by De Los Santos to bridge the all-important barbecue sauce war that North Carolinians will be familiar with. This keeps the sauces from being too thick or too thin, De Los Santos said, and helps keep the heat in the spicy sauce from overpowering the flavor.
Recently De Los Santos took another major step forward for the Mike D’s brand: opening a new brick and mortar retail store in east Durham. Mike D’s BBQ Supply and General Store, at 306 S. Driver St., carries De Los Santos’s prizewinning sauces and rubs as well as custom grills, Mike D’s branded apparel, grill tools and more. De Los Santos hopes to carry that momentum into 2021 and beyond.
“We definitely want to establish at least one retail provider in all 50 states, just to make it easier for people to get their hands on our products,” he said. “We also want to continue to grow our barbecue supply store. During the pandemic it’s hard to get people in the door, but when we get back to normal we want to be able to have people in our store, have barbecue festivals tied to the store and just bring people together around barbecue.”
For more information and to purchase Mike D’s products, visit https://www.mikedsbbq.com/pages/about-us.